California Buckthorn is a shrub or shrubby tree of the genus Rhamnus. This plant is native to the US states of California and southern Oregon. It is also called "Coffeeberry" because its berries contain seeds which resemble coffee beans. The berries begin green and turn red, then purple, and finally black by late summer. Native Americans gathered the berries, using them for both food and medicinal purposes. This plant is also referred to as "Dyers Buckthorn" because of the rich yellow dye obtained from the berries.
You may wish to read the comments to this blog for discussion about this plant's identification.
The plants pictured here were seen growing along the roadside in the Sierra Nevada mountains just west of Susanville, California. We were traveling home from a family wedding in Nevada. It was the deep mahogany color of the branches which first attracted my attention and caused us to stop and investigate.
|Manzanita or California Buckthorn?|
|Berries in mid-August|
|Each berry has two nut-like seeds inside which is consistent with California Buckthorn|
Not knowing what the plant was, I wondered if the bark might be useful in dyeing. We cut off one branch loaded with berries and leaves. I have not yet tried dyeing with the berries or the bark, which is very smooth and tight, but I did pull off the leaves and gave them a go in the dyepot, simmering the leaves for an hour, then simmering a mordant sample card along with a skein of wool yarn pre-mordanted with alum.
|Leaves simmering in dyepot|
Here are the results:
|Manzanita (or Cal. Buckthorn?) Leaves Mordant Sample Card|
|Leaves, alum mordant on wool|
Sometime I plan to try dyeing with the berries and the bark.